Clause 3 - Sunset of retained EU rights, powers, liabilities etc

Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 11:30 am ar 24 Tachwedd 2022.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship once again, Sir George. The clause is a vital part of the Government’s retained EU law reform programme and will make sure that EU rights, obligations and remedies saved by section 4 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 cease to apply in the UK after 31 December 2023.

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Future of Work), Shadow Minister (Business and Industrial Strategy)

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair this morning, Sir George. Members will note that I am a little hoarse —please do not give me a sugar cube. I hope that means I will not be quite as lengthy as I was on Tuesday.

Hon. Members::


Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Future of Work), Shadow Minister (Business and Industrial Strategy)

We can try.

I want to say a few words about the clause, which will fit in with the discussion we will have on the following clauses. All these clauses pertain to the future of our law after the removal of the legal effects of EU law. I will try not to repeat myself and to focus specifically on the terms of this clause.

I begin by stating the obvious: as we untie ourselves from the European Union, we will clearly need a new settlement of legal principles. Nevertheless, we ought to treat the clause with some scepticism and scrutinise the impact it will have on our country’s legal system. In doing so, we must consider why it was decided to take a snapshot at the end of 2020 in the first place.

When the country entered the transition period for leaving the EU, the potential for a legal vacuum to emerge rapidly became apparent, as the process of preserving EU legislation and EU-derived legislation made under section 2 of the European Communities Act 1972 began. Section 4 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 was therefore designed to prevent such a legal vacuum once the 1972 Act was repealed, by catching everything that might have been missed and its legal effects.

I am saying that to highlight an important feature of the 2018 Act, which has been to maintain the smooth operation of our legal system while we formally left the EU. Clearly, it still has importance. Unless the Government are able to use the powers in clauses 12 to 15 to replace the effects of EU law exactly—although it is clear that they do not want to do that—we face the prospect of a legal vacuum.

I have a couple of questions for the Minister. First, does she agree that section 4 of the EU (Withdrawal) Act has provided an important function over the previous years in creating stability and certainty? Secondly, does she recognise the risk of a legal vacuum opening after 2023, and can she provide any assessment the Government have made of that risk?

As a matter of interest, I have just read on the front page of today’s Financial Times that a wide range of groups, from the TUC to the CBI, have written to the Prime Minister requesting that the Bill be withdrawn. One reason they give is that it will create a vacuum and a great amount of legal uncertainty. I suspect that the Minister has not yet had a chance to discuss the contents of that letter with the Prime Minister, but if she has, will she update us? [Interruption.] The Minister’s response suggests that she has not had that opportunity.

Such questions naturally lead us to the identification problem that we discussed on Tuesday. My understanding is that the dashboard sought to capture the examples under section 4 of the 2018 Act on retaining

“rights, powers, liabilities, obligations, restrictions, remedies and procedures”.

Due to the dashboard’s catch-all nature, however, can we be certain that all those have been picked up, given that even the Government admit that not all the regulations have been captured? How on earth can we be certain that serious vacuums will not be left by the removal of section 4 if we cannot be sure that we have identified everything affected by it? That is an important point.

Linking again to our debate on Tuesday about the timeframe in which such legal effects and legislative provisions need to be restated, replaced or revoked under clauses 12 to 15, we must not treat clause 3 in isolation. We must remember that what happens alongside the mountain of other pieces of EU legislation that need to be processed will be key to how the country moves forward. At the very least the Minister must try to offer us some reassurance—or, better yet, a plan that shows—that the Government have the matter in hand and will deal with all the legislative provisions and legal decisions before the 2023 deadline.

Overall, we agree that there has to be an end to EU supremacy in UK law, but we still have concerns about how that will operate in practice. We want to avoid a situation that the Government have known was coming for at least two years. I would be grateful if the Minister could provide some assurances to the Committee that action on the concerns that have been expressed by a wide body of representative groups is in hand.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow

Good morning, Sir George. I rise to support the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston. I also think that the debate on the clause sums up some of the practical challenges with the legislation. The retained EU law dashboard has identified just 28 pieces of directly effective retained law under section 4 of the EU withdrawal Act—a mere amuse-bouche of laws that will be affected by the Bill overall. Given that the number is so small in comparison with the at least 2,500 that have been identified, and the possible 4,000, why could the Minister not show us what will happen next? After all, our debates on Tuesday were all about what would happen if we deleted every piece of legislation. There are no guarantees about what would happen next. Rather than assuming that all these pieces of legislation should go at the end of 2023, surely Ministers could commit to reviewing the 28 now and showing us the way ahead—whether some will be retained, amended or indeed abolished. Then the clause would not be required.

All of this does make a difference. For example, on Tuesday the Government gave their very first commitment on what will happen to one of the 4,000 pieces of legislation—the Bauer and Hampshire judgments about pensions. To remind Government Members, who may well have constituents coming to them about this, those are the requirements—the pieces of case law—that mean that if a company goes bust, people are entitled to at least 50% of their pension fund. The Government committed on Tuesday to abolishing those pieces of legislation, but they are affected by the clause.

The 28 pieces of legislation are not insubstantial; they could be the way forward for the Minister. Instead of requiring the clause, she could say, “We’re going to look at the 28 and tell you what we’re going to do with them,” so that people can have confidence that we have an administrative process for these pieces of legislation and the suggestion that there has been scaremongering can be put aside. She could say, “Here are 28 examples of what we’re going to do, and the fact that they are rights under section 4 of the EU withdrawal Act helps us to contain them as a piece of work.”

The Intellectual Property (Exhaustion of Rights) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 are another of the 28. Given that the Government are getting rid of the Bauer and Hampshire judgments, thereby affecting the pension rights and protections of our constituents, could the Minister set out what might happen on that one? She was very kind on Tuesday to set out an example of what will happen to one of the 28. It would be incredibly helpful for us as a Committee to understand the impact of the legislation and to perhaps start, if not to allay our concerns—I think Opposition Members are concerned when people’s pension protections are being not just watered down but, frankly, abolished—then to understand what the Government’s intentions are in using these powers.

I simply ask the Minister to use the clause stand part debate to explain why the 28 pieces of legislation could not have been dealt with in advance of the Bill, given that they stand on the EU withdrawal Act, and to tell us a bit about what will happen to them, to give us an indication of what horrors are to come or perhaps to reassure us. Government Members want to use the term “scaremongering”. I use the term “accountability”. I am looking forward to what the Minister has to say.

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

It is curious that Opposition Members say they do not want to prevent Brexit or accept the supremacy of EU law, but then they come up with every which way to stop these things actually being delivered.

The matters saved by section 4 of the EU withdrawal Act consist largely of rights, obligations and remedies developed in the case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union. Many of those overlap with rights already well established by domestic law, and those overlaps can cause confusion. The Bill allows the Government to codify any specific rights that may otherwise cease to apply if they consider it a requirement.

A question was raised about whether we are ending section 4 rights; that is not the case. Section 4 of the EU withdrawal Act incorporated the effect and interpretation of certain rights that previously had effect in the UK legal system through section 2(1) of the European Communities Act 1972. Section 4 rights largely overlap with rights that are already available in UK domestic law, and it is domestic legislation where they should be clearly expressed. This Bill seeks to rectify that constitutional anomaly by repealing section 4 of the 2018 Act. That does not mean the blanket removal of individual rights; rather, combined with other measures in the Bill, it will result in the codification of rights in specific policy.

Ministers in each Department, which will be responsible for their own elements of the Bill, will work with the appropriate bodies to ensure that they share what they will be assimilating, repealing and updating. All of that will provide additional clarity, making rights clearly accessible in UK law. That is why I recommend that the clause stand part of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 3 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.